Aria In The Wild

October 24, 2015 at 10:36 pm 2 comments

Summertime valley floor near Westcliffe, Colorado, facing the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range to the west.

Near Westcliffe, Colorado:

I’ve loved to hike since I was a kid.  I’ve hiked mostly in the West, the Southwest and in the California Sierras.  When I moved east, I became a true urban hiker.

For a time, I alternated between Urban Hiking in New York City and Wilderness Hiking in Colorado where we had a home up in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  It was hiking heaven there in the Sangres.  Though I could rarely convince husband or son to join me, I pretty quickly found a group of new friends with whom to hike and mountain climb.

My favorite kind of hike, however, was a solo walk to a neighboring mountain lake or peak hovering above our house — which was built on the side of a mountain at 9000 feet.  I’d start right out of my front door.  Solo hikes insured that I would potentially see more wildlife along the way because two or more people talking and hiking make a lot more noise.

During our first year, I became a pretty seasoned hiker.  That summer I walked 10-mile, 12-mile, and 16-mile roundtrip day hikes by myself.  Our neighbor was a retired park service ranger who gave me several tutorials about our wilderness back yard, its animals, and what to do if I met up with wildcats, bears, and mountain lions.

One of my most memorable hikes was an afternoon walk along the Rainbow Trail.  I started at noon on a gorgeous summer Sunday in July.

I had my gear with me — a small pack with water, extra socks, a rain poncho, first aid kit, a few energy snacks, a book for contemplation on some future rock, and a jet scream whistle for bears.

I hiked for 3 1/2 hours before turning around.  It was so beautiful, and each new bend up the trail kept beckoning me, so I broke my rule and went further than planned.

When I finally made the u-turn to come home, I mentally expressed gratitude for the beauty of all that I had experienced.  Prayer and “inner” listening are my favorite things to do on solo hikes.

As I walked down the mountain, this thought came: “Jules, be aware that you are walking just as the bears are waking up.  It’s their time to be outside and to find food.”  I thought about what my neighbor had taught me, and I continued quietly on my way.

About 15 minutes later, I heard a loud crunching of bushes down the trail.  In general, I heard this same kind of noise on all hikes, and usually a big deer would come crashing out of the forest, leaping across the trail on its way to some unknown destination.  I figured it was a deer again, but timing and instinct told me to stand still and try to see what was ahead of me.

Within moments, a black bear cub popped out of the bushes, crossed the trail and disappeared into a thicket.

WHOA.  Where was Mamma Bear?  Was she behind me, or above me to the left, or below me to the right?  WHERE WAS SHE?

Before I could blink, the answer came.

Mamma showed up.

She emerged out of the same bushes down the trail, and instantaneously sensed my presence.  With nose in the air, she located me standing about 30 feet up the path from her, and she squared off directly toward me.

I was too busy behaving the way I had been trained, and also being overwhelmed by the incredible beauty of these bears — to be scared.

I went to work.  I knew to not look Mamma in the eye.  My right hand was slowly reaching into the front pocket of my shorts for the jet scream whistle to blow should I need to scare her away.  I also slowly, slowly began backing up, just as I had been trained to do.

Meanwhile, I instinctively spoke to her out loud just above a whisper.  I first identified myself as a guest in her woods.  I thanked her for allowing me to pass through her neighborhood.  I thanked her for her beauty and intelligence, and for the opportunity to meet her.  I told her what a beautiful baby she had.

But still, she stood in my path.

Watching me carefully, the tension rose.  But then, in a split second, she decided that I was not a threat.  With lightning speed, she suddenly turned, crossed the trail and disappeared into the same thicket to join her baby.

And they were gone.  There was no sign of them.  It was the most amazing vanishing act I had ever witnessed.

I stood still for a full 2 minutes — an eternity — listening and waiting for a sign to move forward.

Suddenly, I simply HAD to have a BIG STICK in my hands  — a great noisemaker — to announce in advance to all the bears feeding further down the path that I.WAS.COMING!

I looked around on the ground, and there it lay.  I picked it up and began flying down the trail as fast as my legs could carry me, brandishing my new best friend, my stick.

Finally I slowed down to a more normal pace.  However, I still had a lot of ground to cover before getting home.  How to keep up the noise was the question.

And then it hit me:  Sing!  Yes, sing!  So I did sing!  For over an hour and a half, I sang sacred songs, vocalizes, show tunes and yes, of course, opera arias!

Tired, dirty, dry-throated but joyfully alive, I came around the bend to a row of cabins.

And there stood a line of about 10 people, all leaning on the porch rails, staring intently … at me.

Dreadfully embarrassed, I quickly ended my aria, waved sheepishly, and bowed to an incredulous but politely bemused applause.

For an encore, I explained the reason for my aria in the wild and regaled them with my trials in the wilderness.

Bidding them adieu, I then went on home — only to dream that night about “lions, and tigers and bears, oh my!”

This black bear captured on camera by wildlife photographer Tony Lane last September near Sedalia is a fairly typical resident of Colorado.
Tony Lane, Special to The Post

 This blog post was inspired by a story posted to my Timeline by a Facebook friend. You can read it here:


Entry filed under: Inspiration, Inspiratus. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. godcanhealit  |  October 25, 2015 at 9:16 am

    Mountain tops or city streets, keep letting them know you’re coming!

    • 2. juliawade  |  October 25, 2015 at 7:01 pm

      You bet! It’s a good practice all around! 🙂


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